HR can’t afford to get remote onboarding wrong

Businesses entering a long-term but virtual relationship with a new employee must work even harder to gain their trust even from before day one, argues Gary Cookson

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As you’ll know, the onboarding phase – between job acceptance and the start date – is critical for creating the right employee experience. Many organisations tend to focus only on the standard background checking processes: while these serve a good purpose, they are not exciting and don’t tend to create engagement in employees, which is what we should use the onboarding phase to do.

We should avoid leaving the employee alone (aside from background checks) until day one, as huge opportunities could be missed. And because we are working more remotely or in a hybrid way these opportunities are more important. But we must change how we do things. Here are some remote onboarding top tips beyond the normal good practice:

Build anticipation

There may be no such thing as over communicating in remote onboarding, and the new employee needs to know that their impending arrival is prepared for and being looked forward to. Provide details on what the induction phase will look like, including links to key meetings, a clear agenda and timetable.

Connect people

Setting new employees up on the communications platforms their teammates use before they join is important so everyone can introduce themselves and start building relationships. Helping the new employee identify things in common with existing employees is important. Assigning them a buddy who will help them and ensuring first contact happens before the start date is helpful too.

Clarify the setup process

Explain what equipment will be sent and when to expect it – and what to do with it. Explain what logins are being created and when they will be activated and any action needed on the part of the employee (such as downloading software and password creation).

Set expectations around remote working

Explain what the culture is, and expectations are around using things like headsets, ethernet vs Wi-Fi connections, blurred virtual backgrounds, cameras in meetings, and other people in their location (such as children). Their experiences of working remotely elsewhere may be quite different.

Frequently asked questions

Think about when you first started your job and the things you wish you’d found out beforehand. Then put that stuff into a document to help the new starter and send it in advance.

We should also consider that if the new employee has been working remotely in their last job, that the process of separating – emotionally and physically – from their last employer and joining you may have some problematic elements. They may have left their last role on a Friday and start with you on Monday – but they are sitting in the same chair in the same room of the same house, perhaps using the same equipment and having the same view out of their window. For many, it will seem like the same job.

We should be calling out this elephant in the room and addressing it early on – it is not necessarily bad, as it can be helpful to bring in experiences from other places, and to retain links to past employers too – but the new employee needs to know that we know about these links and their difficulty separating and are willing to work with them to create new and more productive relationships.

Gary Cookson is founder of Epic HR and author of HR for Hybrid Working